Symposium.(Democrat Charles B. Rangel and Army Reservist James Lacey on military conscription )
Author/s: Charles B. Rangel, James Lacey
Issue: Feb 4, 2003
Q: Is restoring universal military conscription in the United States a good idea?
YES: Those who call for war against Iraq should be willing to put their own sons and daughters in harm's way.
BY REP. CHARLES B. RANGEL
Rangel (D-N.Y) is serving his 16th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee and serves on the Joint Committee on Taxation.
President George W. Bush and his administration have declared a war against terrorism that soon may involve sending thousands of U.S. troops into combat in Iraq. I voted against the congressional resolution giving the president authority to carry out this war--an engagement that would dwarf our military efforts to find Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.
But as a combat veteran of the Korean conflict, I believe that if we are going to send our children to war the governing principle must be that of shared sacrifice. Throughout much of our history, Americans have been asked to shoulder the burden of war equally. That's why I have asked Congress to consider and support legislation I have introduced to resume the military draft.
Carrying out the administration's policy toward Iraq will require long-term sacrifices by the American people, particularly those who have sons and daughters in the military. Yet the Congress that voted overwhelmingly to allow the use of force in Iraq includes only one member who has a child in the enlisted ranks of the military; just a few more have children who are officers.
I believe that if those calling for war knew that their children were likely to be required to serve--and to be placed in harm's way--there would be more caution and a greater willingness to work with the international community in dealing with Iraq. A renewed draft will help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war.
Service in our nation's armed forces no longer is a common experience. A disproportionate number of the poor and members of minority groups make up the enlisted ranks of the military, while the most privileged Americans are underrepresented or absent. We need to return to the tradition of the citizen soldier, with alternative national service required for those who cannot serve because of physical limitations or reasons of conscience.
There is no doubt that going to war against Iraq severely will strain military resources already burdened by a growing number of obligations. There are daunting challenges facing the 1.4 million men and women in active military service and those in our National Guard and Reserves. The Pentagon has said that as many as 250,000 troops may be mobilized for an invasion of Iraq. An additional 265,000 members of the National Guard and Reserves, roughly as many as were called up during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, also may be activated.
Already, we have long-term troop commitments in Europe and the Pacific, with an estimated 116,000 troops in Europe, 90,000 in the Pacific (nearly 40,000 in Japan and 38,000 in Korea) and additional troop commitments to operations in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere. There also are military trainers in countries across the world, including the Philippines, Colombia and Yemen. We can expect the evolving global war on terrorism to drain our military resources even more, stretching them to the limit.
The Bush administration has yet to address the question of whether our military is of sufficient strength and size to meet present and future commitments. Those who would lead us into war have the obligation to support an all-out mobilization of Americans for the war effort, including mandatory national service that asks something of us all.
The following is a partial transcript of Rep. Rangel's statements at a Capitol Hill press conference on Jan. 7 as published by Reuters:
As many of you know, I have introduced a bill that will require mandator military and national service for all of our young people, without exceptions for college or graduate courses, with the exception of allowing youngsters to finish high school at a given age.
The president of the United States will have the discretion to determine the number of people who will be necessary for the military, and those who because of impairments or disabilities cannot serve in the military will be required to perform other national services at our borders, in our schools, in our seaports and in our airports.
There are those who would want to believe that the introduction of this legislation at this time is because I want to show my objections and feelings against the United States of America being involved in a unilateral pre-emptive strike against the people and the government of Iraq. Others would believe that I would want to make it clear that if, indeed, there is a war that there would be more equitable representation of the American people making the sacrifices for this great country of ours.
Both of those objectives are mine. I truly believe that those who make the decision and those who support the United States going into war would feel more readily the pain that's involved, and the sacrifice that's involved, if they thought that the fighting force would include the affluent and those who historically have avoided this great responsibility.
Question: Is this an equity issue or is this because we're standing on the brink of war?
Rangel: With my whole heart I hope this country does not go to war. With my whole heart I do not believe that there is this imminent threat to the security of the United States. I have a lot of reservations about this war. But as I tried to say, if for whatever reason war is inevitable, then I mean every word that I said about the defense of this country. I would use this [the proposed draft] as a platform for peace and diplomacy. But I don't want to take away from the fact that we're treating North Korea differently than we're treating Iraq--North Korea has no oil. Iraq has the oil.
But assuming I was pro-war, I would be taking the very same position I'm taking today. If I thought it was necessary to wipe out Saddam Hussein and to attack North Korea and to look for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and to preserve the peace in Europe, I would say that the cavalier way in which people talk about taking out people--it appears to me they're talking about some French Foreign Legion. We are talking about Americans here. And that responsibility should be shared by all Americans.